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We hold events for our alumni, friends, and the general public for people to connect with the important conversations in leadership.

Subject matter experts and prominent New Zealand leaders share their knowledge and engage with the audience, sparking new ideas and innovation as minds from different backgrounds converge and focus their energy on a salient issue or theme.

Session One, Exploring Leadership


Exploring Leadership

Programme participant Stephen Harris shares his experiences and thoughts on Session One held at Old Government House, Auckland.

Setting course by our own compass

Fear is a state of heightened awareness. Would we want to be without this as leaders? I pondered this as our introductory retreat prodded more soft underbellies than was decent – and those were just mine. How could I possibly become a fearless leader – and do I want to? The very question is scary. The answer could well take more than this year to emerge.

Yet part of me was rising like groundwater to this theme over our three days together in Auckland, stirring murky eddies while outside the glorious, summer weather sang “all’s well.” Sir Bob Harvey struck a chord with his take: feel fear and do it anyway. Or Traci Houpapa: my greatest fear is not to try. But what of the other fears, uncertainty, awkwardness and fallibility we felt as we shuffled to form our amoeba-shaped ‘circle’?

Bob and Traci challenged us is to set sail towards a foggy horizon in our own waka – or more particularly our collective ‘marae on the ocean’, as Wikuki Kingi described it; energised by the elements and guided by the star compass we collectively form on its deck.

The generosity of spirit, humility, humour and courage of sharing so many life examples among us – with our guest speakers, in our open floor discussions, syndicates and triads – has set a daunting expectation of disclosure, including to ourselves. That will take some getting used to – and lots of trust. Yet it was the power of metaphors and imagery and their echo across cultures that transported me to a place I felt open to what this year might hold: the Tahitian whare hape (chrysalis); the names of syndicates; the symbols of our personal time machines; the magician as creative muse. 

As we tried to condense into one word or a few how we felt at the end of day three, the variety of people’s responses showed we are spread around the points of the star compass. I came away with a strong sense the direction of my journey will reveal itself amid the myriad of pinpoints of light the Class of Leading Fearlessly will bring to illuminate our way this year.

As Wikuki Kingi reminded us when Marianne asked him how he found the courage to begin the Pou Kapua in 2002, the spur to a creative journey of discovery can be a provocation in our here and now – in his case the lack of consultation with Maori over plans for a landmark to celebrate the 2000 defence in Auckland of the America’s Cup.: “We kinda got angry, and we thought ‘how do we make a statement? Then you have to start dreaming….”

Courage, then: Nelson Mandela “learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

We are called to be navigators; to be “fierce”. But does that mean we should be fearless? I’m not sure I can be. But I am certain that together we have entered a season of risk and discovery.

Stephen Harris
Divisional Manager, South/South East Asia MFAT